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Last week, I learned about one of several times that London Bridge fell down, in 1014 during fighting with the Vikings.
I’m listening to the audio version of Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and The Vile about the London Blitz, particularly focused on Prime Minister Winston Churchill. I’m sure I’ll review it in a future British Isles Friday post since I’m really enjoying it.
I decided to get the fighter airplanes straight in my mind. Since I just discovered that the Smithsonian owns one of each of the three main fighters in the National Air and Space Museum, I thought they would make a fun focus for a virtual museum tour. The museum’s planes are slightly newer models than the ones that were used in the Blitz, but they give us an idea what it was like to be in and around those aircraft.
The Royal Air Force flew two different fighters to defend England during the Battle of Britain — Hurricanes and Spitfires.
The Air and Space Museum has a slideshow featuring five pictures of their Hurricane. The Hurricane was Britain’s first monoplane fighter, designed in the late 1930s. So, the RAF had many more Hurricanes than Spitfires at the beginning of the war.
The Spitfire, according to the Air and Space Museum, had superb handling and performance. Dunkirk, the operation that removed British soldiers from France, was the first major battle for the Spitfire. When the movie Dunkirk came out, the Smithsonian released an article about the Spitfire at Dunkirk. The museum has a slideshow of 19 photographs of the Spitfire.
The Luftwaffe used the Messerschmitt Bf. 109 fighter during the Battle of Britain. There’s an interesting story about how the US came to have possession of a Messerschmitt. A German pilot, from the annexed Lorraine region, was forced to fly in the Luftwaffe. On his first combat mission, he flew the plane to a US Army base in Italy and defected. The plane was sent to the US for evaluation and, after the war, was donated to the Air and Space Museum. The museum’s slide show has 21 photographs, including this one:
Fighter planes had many roles during World War II, but during the Blitz they were primarily used as bomber escorts or bomber defense. The Messerschmitts flew alongside the German bomber planes as they flew over the Channel to London. Meanwhile, as soon as the RAF knew where bombers were located, they sent up Hurricanes and Spitfires. The goal of the British fighters was to shoot down bombers before they could release the bombs. The role of the Messerschmitts was to chase the British planes away from the bombers. The reverse also happened, the British bombed Berlin although much less effectively since they had to fly so far to reach the city. The Luftwaffe used bases in nearby France to launch their attacks on London.
I’d love to see these planes in person, but I appreciate that I can see the photos, now, when I’m not traveling.
What have you been learning about the British Isles this week?